Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Buff Sweep - Oly Trials Day 6

Like the Kenyan men so often do, the University of Colorado women swept the 3000 m Steeplechase on Day 6 of the Olympic Track and Field Trials. Or at least they should have, or could have. Emma Coburn, Shalaya Kipp and Jenny Simpson showing the Boulder running dominance. Would/could have been SO cool. Let me explain.

In 2008, Jenny Simpson (then Barringer) was the top American steepler at the Olympic games. Fresh off an American record setting performance, she was primed to move  up to challenge for the medals with the Kenyan and East European women for London. So what did Jenny do? She changed events.

Now I, nor anyone else, can't complain too much about Jenny's decision. She won the World Championships at the 1500 meters last summer and appears ready to make an Olympic run in that event (her final is Sunday). But the thought of the sweep really gets me cranked up.

Then there is that other little thing, Bridget Franek. Franek (who is having a great season) ran a very controlled, smart race to place second sending Kipp to the bronze position. Maybe my sweep wasn't meant to be. Here's what I figure would have happened, though: Kipp would have come off the final water jump to glance ahead and see the two Buffettes in first and second, been totally inspired and BLAZED by Franek to secure the sweep. I could/would have so cool! Instead, we get two collegians, both from the University of Colorado representing our country in London. The upside on Coburn and Kipp is that I think both will run considerably faster in the Olympics. Good stuff!

So, I guess I'll take it and put away my broom for another time and another event. Go Buffs!

Friday, June 29, 2012

The Ecstasy of the Trials - Oly Trials Day 5


For a distance racing fan, Day 5 of the Trials was a plethora of races reflecting the many faces of the Olympic Trials: from the Ridiculous to the Agony, to the Ecstasy. One by one....


The Ridiculous. Yeah I know that the plan is to emulate the Olympic Games as much as possible. I get that. But WOW, three prelim heats to eliminate 3 women and six men. Seems like a waste. Nonetheless, no surprises in either group. Everyone through to the semis.

The Agony. There is no contest for this, Julia Lucas. After taking the lead with a little over three laps to go, Lucas pressed the pace, brought the race back into Olympic "A" standard territory and opened a sizable gap to her competitors. That gap looked safe until the last 200 when first Molly Huddle and Julie Culley went by. At this point, Lucas was STRUGGLING. She had the bear AND the piano on her back. She pressed on wishing that somehow that finish line would come closer. Her Olympic dream, however, was shattered when Kim Conley nipped her at the tape with a lean that would have been the envy of a world class sprinter.

The Ecstasy. There is two: Galen Rupp and Kim Conley. Galen Rupp has arrived.... period. The young former Oregon Duck unleashed a deadly kick with 400 to go, only to be passed by the great Bernard Lagat (quite a kicker, himself). Normally, in most races, that's it. Put a fork in him, he's done. Not Galen Rupp. Somehow, and from somewhere, he found yet another gear and arose from the ashes of defeat (well, being second - hey, just trying to create a little drama, here) to whip Lagat in the final 50 meters. Through his outstanding victories in both the 5 and 10 K races, the often criticized Rupp has firmly established himself as America's premier distance runner.

Kim Conley, on the other hand, has not been in most anyone's discussions as America's premier female distance runner. Unleashing a deadly kick the final 200, Conley sealed the deal with an awesome lean at the tape. She was third, BUT.... did she meet the Olympic "A" standard? A few seconds of anticipation (that must have seemed like days) passed before the scoreboard flashed her time, two tenths of a second under the standard. Her shock/ecstasy can be seen in the picture above. At some point, she'll want to thank Julia Lucas for upping the pace. Great Oly Trials drama!

ALSO: a shoutout to Evan Jager who ran a personal best of 8:17 to win the 3000m Steeplechase...... in his FOURTH ever steeple. Amazing. Jager, an amazing talent, should improve greatly, even in the five/six weeks until the Olympics. Of course, he'll have to as the steeple has been pretty much the private domain of the Kenyans. To compete, Jager needs to definitely go sub 8:10. I'm betting he does it, but still won't medal.

So another great day of Track and Field. Geez, this sure beats watching baseball this time of year!

Monday, June 25, 2012

Dream Big!


Tonight Lauren Fleshman will run in the qualifying heats of the Olympic Trials. As a Facebook friend, running aficionado and admirer of great talent, her story is not new to me. It was brought to the forefront of my mind today, however, because of two things: Her race is tonight (yeah, I said that) and she posted an awesome blog today reviewing her path to this day. That link is http://asklaurenfleshman.com/journal/2012/06/25/the-evolution-of-a-dream/

A year ago, Fleshman’s plan was to bury the competition, qualify for London and begin preparations for a medal assault at the Olympics. This was her dream. Funny thing about dreams, they don’t always come true. A series of painful, training-robbing injuries have taken her from the favorites role and placed her into a whole other category: inspiration.

Fleshman will toe the line having averaged roughly 10 miles a week over the last couple of months. For the unknowing, non-runner types out there, that’s not much. A robust old man like me has been averaging almost that a day the last two months, and world class 5K female runners tend to run 80+ in heavy training. Lauren, on the other hand, has utilized everything and anything that doesn’t hurt to prepare for this day. Swimming, the EliptiGo and sprint sessions have been the staple of her preparation. Lauren Fleshman is chasing a dream. She hopes for the best. In reality, achieving the dream is awesome, but living and committing to the dream is the best.

Somewhere in the movie, Love Story, someone said, “you lose your dream, you die.” I think they’re right. For those of us actively participating in this life, the dream is everything. It’s the goal, the focus, the thing to be planned around, the ultimate achievement. The goal is the anchor in a purpose driven life. And while we don't achieve them all, this is one instance where the journey has considerable reward.

I’m sending my “C” to Lauren Fleshman tonight (read her blog and you'll get this). Dream on, girl!

NOTE:  Roughly fifteen minutes ago, Lauren Fleshman qualified for the finals of the 5000 meters to be contested Thursday evening with the top three finishers heading to London. You never know the power of a dream!

Rest Day Before the Rest Days - Oly Trials Day 3

A Disappointed Jeremy Wariner
Oddly enough there are two rest days within the Olympic Track and Field Trials this time. Yesterday, while not official, was my rest day. Nothing scheduled that excited me much, at least not enough to watch it live. So I DVRed the day and zipped through it later.

The return of Justin Gatlin was the highlight of the evening. Gatlin had been suspended a few years ago for a positive doping test. Unlike most, Gatlin came back as good or better than ever. He seems like a nice guy with a cute little son! Props to Tyson Gay for a successful return to the Trials podium after injuries and surgeries in the past year.

I suppose the low of the evening was the disappointing performance of former Olympic Gold Medalist Jeremy Wariner. Seeking his third Olympic team, he just never quite seemed to have it this year. For Wariner, 2012 has been a missed opportunity as two years ago, he would have been best served moving up to the 800 meters (just sayin'....).

Anyway, excited for tonight as the 800 final for both men and women (go Maggie!) will be contested as well as preliminary races in the 3000 m steeplechase and the 5000. A good night for distance folks.That makes for a good night for me!

On a related note, the Tour de France begins Saturday and I am mildly interested. Hopefully, once the Trials finish and the Tour hits the Alps, my interest will peak.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

STUD of all Studs - Oly Trials Day 2

Aston Eaton and two awesome dudes!
After an exciting Day 1, the second portion of the Olympic Track and Field Trials was nothing less than fantastic. High, and still undecided drama in the women's sprints, and a World Record in the decathlon by Ashton Eaton.

Rain, again, sporadically poured on the venue and at one time caused the meet director to delay the start of several events. That delay caused my taping of the night's events to get screwed up (poor me). To my amazement, the often criticized (and usually deservedly so) NBC extended the live coverage to show the last two finals. Warm fuzzies to them (thought I would NEVER, EVER write those words).

First, the sprints. In the 100m hurdles, defending Olympic champion Dawn Harper looked awesome. Kellie Wells looked good taking Silver, but the shout of the day came (from me) for the "return" of Lolo Jones. 

Jones, in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, was on her way to the gold medal when she clipped the ninth hurdle (there are ten). While she didn't fall, the hit was enough to break her momentum. She went from Gold to "thanks for coming" in a split second. In the four years since, she has had numerous injuries, some good races, some bad races and announced her virginity on Twitter. The odds against her were BIG. And, to me, that's why her success is so exciting (let's get that start fixed, Lolo)!

In the women's 100 m dash, Carmelita Jeter won, re-establishing herself as the world's fastest female (arguably, I might add). Tianna Madison was impressive in second and Jeneba Tarmoh nipped Allyson Felix for third. Or did she? Upon further review and after countless looks, from countless angles, the race was declared a dead heat. A dead heat for third in the 100. 

Dead heats have happened in track and field before, but not for the third and final Olympic spot. The USATF didn't have a rule to cover this one, so we wait for their decision. A run off? A coin flip? Calling Rich Sands to see what he says they should do?

Then.... there's Aston Eaton. You can have LB James, Tom Brady, Alex Rodriquez and all of the other pre-fabricated sports heroes. I'll take Aston Eaton, stud of all studs.

Dominating his way through the two day Decathlon competition, Eaton needed to run a personal best in the 1500m (the final event) to set a new world record. He paced himself pretty well for the first 2 3/4 laps and then somehow, after two days of grueling competition, found something left for a fabulous last lap, a four second PR (personal record) and the new world's best. It was awesome to watch the crowd carry him through that final lap and even better to see his own reaction.

Not at all lost in the roar of that final straightaway was two of Eaton's fellow competitors, Joe Detmer and Curtis Beach. Beach had the 1500 won, Eaton was closing in on Detmer for second. Coming on that final straightaway, Beach could sense something special was happening. He could hear the crowd, he sensed the history. Ten yards into what could have been his own big moment, Curtis Beach moved out to the third lane, slowed down and looked back. He then shut it down, let Eaton pass giving up his moment so that Eaton could have his. So cool, so classy. Detmer didn't fight off Eaton either and in that wonderful photo of the finish (above), Beach and Detmer are all smiles watching Eaton break the world record.

I love sports and as you know, I LOVE a good track and field meet. I got more than my share of that Saturday night. Ashton Eaton, Dawn Harper, Lolo Jones, Carmelita Jeter... all gave great sport moments. On a bigger picture, though, I love sportsmanship, compassion and awareness. Curtis Beach and Joe Detmer, you guys ROCKED that category.

Ready for Day 3.


Only One Thing Would Be Better - Oly Trials Day 1

Amy Hastings - Olympian
It's my favorite time of the quadrennial: Olympic Trials time! You can have the NBA Finals, the World Series, Lord Stanley's Cup, and yes, dare I say it, you can even have the Super Bowl. I'll take the Olympic Track and Field Trials.

Being a runner/track guy, I love a good track meet anyway, but the Olympic trials embody everything about racing. You get this one shot, at this one moment, on this one date and you're either faster (or longer or higher or stronger) than the next guy or girl ORRRR you don't make it. The finality of that makes it fascinating and creates incredible drama.

Real sports fans should flock to this every-four-years affair, but unfortunately for them, they don't. Why? You'd have to ask them. I could cite broadcast networks that seem to be unable to create a product worthy of the actual event, or the ignorance of the public to embrace anything that isn't consider a "real" professional sport, or we could look at the actual structure of a real live track and field meet. All of those possibilities will have to wait. I'm too busy digging the action.

Let's begin with Friday evening and the finals of one of my favorite events, the 10,000 meters. In the old days having a favorite in a race was easy, you went with the person you know, the one you love to cheer on. With Twitter and Facebook and Flotrack, the expansiveness of who we "know" has catapulted to a point where I feel like I know and really wish the best for most everyone in the field. But at some point, the gun goes off and I have to commit. Who will I expend energy cheering from the comfort of my home over a thousand miles away. My choices were/are clear: Galen Rupp and Amy Hastings.

Galen Rupp is a guy whose talents were discovered at an early age and gradually honed by his attendance at the University of Oregon and his affiliation with the Nike Oregon Project, both under the watchful eye of Alberto Salazar. Rupp is a confident, yet humble kid that just wants to be the best in the world. Not the best non-East African in the world, the actual BEST in the whole world. I like that! He also takes a beating on many of the message boards and blogs from the many jealous haters who resent the success of anyone who seems to be a nice person (and is more than just the flavor of the month). Hating that is quite undeserved (but that's yet another topic for another time).

Rupp, Friday night ran masterfully, like a man among boys. He shared the early pace with his teammate, Dathan Ritzenhein, whom he helped achieve the time he needed for the coming Olympics. He knew the pace they needed to run (part of the time in POURING rain) and when to step it into another gear to take control. He did both with authority. It was great to watch. By the way, very happy for former CU Buff, Ritz, who qualified after being an "oh so close" 4th at January's marathon trials.

Then there is Amy Hastings. And while, yes, I'm a HUGE Shalane Flanagan fan, Amy Hastings is the, wait for it........ All American Runner Girl! Cute as a button, yet tough as nails. Like Rupp, Hastings has a good nature and in her case, a sweetness that makes it almost impossible to not root for her. And after being the other 4th place finisher at the Trials marathon, her bandwagon was quite full.

My Hastings moment came at the 2011 Bolder Boulder as my son, Ryan and I watched the pro women get ready for the start of that 10K race. As she and Renee Metivier Baillie warmed up in front of us, I said, "Go get 'em, ladies." Hastings turned, smiled and gave us this aw shucks look and said, "Thanks." That was all it took. She was/is destined to be my daughter in law (since I have yet to figure out how to be 30 years younger). And in the absence of her and my son ever really meeting, I'll settle for cheering her on like a member of the family.

Friday night, after doing the bulk of the work to break up a large pack and quicken the race, Amy was passed by both Shalane and newcomer Natosha Rogers with a half a lap to go. It looked bleak. Then, reaching down to that tough as nails spot, she blasted off the curve, found some running room and flew past for the victory. Good stuff!

All in all, I was two for two rooting on Friday evening and it felt pretty good. I was happy for my two favs and delighted to be absorbing another great Olympic Track and Field Trials. 

Only one thing would have been better. Unfortunately, the trip to Hayward Field was not in this year's cards. Maybe next time!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

The Runoff and Being Fifteen

After three easy miles in the neighborhood, it was time to bid my lovely bride a fond farewell. She would be turning left and heading home to prep herself for the coming workday and I would be off to run my way through another seven on what I affectionately call The Park Loop.

The Park Loop is my fallback seven mile loop specifically for the days when I just want to run. No thought required, no trailblazing. Merely a simple loop that takes me through the East end of the Cherry Creek State Park. A very nice descent marks the first mile and a quarter into the park. From there it's mostly flat until I climb my way out at the end (not as far coming out, but steeper).

The Woods. The day before the runoff
The Park loop can become a longer run if I decide to head into The Woods. The Woods is a gorgeous section of the CCSP with several winding circuits that connect to a plethora of other possibilities. The Woods can add anywhere from a mile to four or five according to how they are traversed. I LOVE the Woods. It's one of my top five places to run anywhere.

As I made my right turn to begin the next seven, Linda said, "Are you running in the Woods?"

"I don't know," I answered, "it depends on the storm."

Ah, the storm. Last night the area 20-40 miles Southeast of Denver got SLAMMED with a severe thunderstorm. While certainly not atypical for June, this one was one of the noisiest ever. Big wind, hail, thunder and lightening: the whole package. The damage was clear during the neighborhood part of the run. Many trees were smacked big-time and a bit of roof damage could be easily spotted.

The first clues of The Runoff
My descent was uneventful (except that I felt pretty darned flowie, if you know what I mean). Once in the park, I crossed the main park road and decided that, Yes, I would head to the woods. As I entered the trail, a man was coming from within. He said nothing (well, maybe the usual "HI") and looked perfectly normal. A mere fifty yards later, everything changed. The water appeared, The Runoff had hit. I wondered if he was laughing fifty yards behind me.

I know this trail like the back of my hand. If it were flooded at this spot, it would only get worse as many of these interior trails are also water spillways during floods. Not even halfway into my run, I decided to stay dry and return to the road. Little did I know that there was no escape. The Runoff was everywhere!

The Cherry Creek "River"
Having returned to the familiarity and safeness of the road, it took less than a tenth of a mile and one curve in the road for me to see the Cherry Creek River aside the road. The only problem with this sighting was this: there is no Cherry Creek River that runs along the side of the road. Yesterday, that whole "wetland" area was dry as a bone.

Undaunted, I pressed on figuring I could take the road past the Ranger entrance and connect with the bike path. This was basically my regular route anyway and very little of it was low lying, and therefore at risk. Or so I thought.
Road Closed

Upon reaching the entrance to the picnic area, the road was closed. The sign, as you can see, told the tale. NO MOTORIZED TRAFFIC BEYOND THIS POINT. Well, I've got news: if they think that Mr. Non-Motorized was treading through that, they're nuts. These are two week old shoes, still look new and I have a long way to go. (a side note: at this point I remember last night's Emergency Alert System warning on Comcast. The male computer voice is warning of the dangers of flash flooding and driving into water filled underpasses of unknown depth. He says "turn around, don't drown"). I've decided that's good advice.

I turn left and head to higher ground. I decide I'll traverse the top edges of the dog park area of the state park. While I'm pretty sure there are some wet spots, I'm thinking that with my familiarity with these paths, I can avoid the shoe soaker. The trail is a hair wet, but not bad. Below, I could see some high school runner boys running and splashing along a low lying trail. "Must be nice to be fifteen," I thought. "I'll choose dry!" I hop a few bad spots but at the same time I'm also thinking I've got it made. I will finish off the loop, still get in the seven + three, and emerge dry as a bone. That plan looked good.... for a while.

"Turn around, don't drown," my a$$
I could have avoided the water ahead if I had only veered to the left and did the quick jaunt through what I call the bushes. But this main trail should have taken me to the bike path and I should have been home free with only two miles to go. I carefully tip-toed along the ridge, staying, oh so dry, when all of a sudden dryness gave way to wrath of The Runoff. Two choices emerged: backtrack a half a mile and cut through the bushes OR trudge ahead. The voice in my head says "turn around, don't drown."

 No, not this time. No computer voice will tell me where I can and cannot run. I'm heading in (cover me, boys). Ankle deep soon became shin deep as I trudged on my quest to reach the dryness and purity of the bike path. My sparkling new shoes? Well, I could no longer see them, they might have even been gone, for all I know.

Then, it dawned on me. This water, this Runoff from last night's storm, was coming straight down, you guessed it, the Bike Path. All bets were off at this point. With route calculation a thing of the past (and dryness too), I gave in to The Runoff. My mind quickly transformed and I became, well, fifteen!

My frolicking lasted only about 200 yards, but it was a glorious, splashy, giggly 200 yards. Two ladies, on a walk and about to enter the treacherous rapids gave me an odd look and retreated ("turn around, don't drown"). Oh well, their loss. 

I hit the last puddle with a mile and a half to go. At this point, as many of you have experienced, there is no decision to be made. It is full on, right through, splash it up! And then, it was over. The great Runoff run of 2012 was finished. The climb out of the park to my home on the hill would be the usual slow trudging with one exception: squishy shoes. 

And just squishy enough to make me giggle. Fifteen is not so bad, in moderation. And hey, my shoes will dry just in time for tomorrow.